The Journey to Lansdowne

28 01 2009

The probability of hearing ghost stories invariably increases as you climb higher up the mountains.  Everyone knows that.  Even the people who mistake emus for kiwis since they both can’t fly…I mean, everyone knows that.  So I know I shouldn’t have felt surprised when my husband mentioned that there was a ghost who walked about the grounds of the Garhwal Rifles Officers’Mess at Lansdowne. 

Our reasons for visiting were typical – get out of Delhi, leave the crowd of people we knew behind, pack the car with clothes and food and get going.

The scene changed slowly as the car rolled higher up into the mountains.   Colours became lush, bright and clear.  Despite the crunch of the tires on gravel and stones on the road, we could hear the sound of water clearly.  It gurgled, swooshed and rushed over pebbles and stones collected in the basin over years of travelling down from the peaks. 

I remember sticking my head out of the window.  I looked down.  The river curved lazily, echoing the movement of the road.  The water seemed to be dark green wherever the sunlight didn’t reach.  We fell in love with the beauty of the land around us.  We wanted to stop and get out of the car at every turn. 

Sitting inside a car when it is steadily and very quickly climbing higher and higher, is not pleasant.  So every chance we would get, we yelled and screamed and cribbed and whined till my husband would heave a long suffering sigh and park by the side of the road.  I leapt out waving my camera around like a wild woman and started clicking away.  There was nothing that wasn’t important enough to miss.

Trees, flowers, the bend in the road, the river, pebbles, creeping plants, the side of the mountain, shabby old signs, women carrying children (who gave me huge cheery grins for my trouble), blades of grass bent at interesting angles (for me at least), kites, goats, cows, monkeys, fat piageons, unidentifiable songbirds, fat doves, eagle wings (I never managed to get the whole eagle in one frame; they keep fidgeting about so), trucks, terrace farms, rice fields, guava trees, railroad tracks, bridges – you name it and I clicked away. 

It was evening by the time we finally reached Lansdowne.  Lansdowne is a very neat and spiffy little town.  They have a market and a Mall, and you can get almost all necessities of regular life easily.  What they don’t have in any great quantity is water, which they try and conserve responsibly.  (Give thema  big hand please!)

I mentioned that the town was clean and very pretty.  Not surprising because its run by a cantonment board and is also the base of the Garhwal Rifles regiment of the Indian Army.  We were lucky enough to get rooms at the Officers’ Mess during some connections. 

As we made our way towards our cottage, the sun slipped belowthe horizon and the orange-ish glow that lit the whole place up dimmed somewhat.  I looked up and noticed the year that the cottage was made was painted onto a plaster plaque near the crown of the cottage roof – 1908. 

“Well, what do you think?”  My husband asked.  I looked around in silence.  He’d been telling me about a ghost who walks about the Mess grounds at night and all sorts of things.  It didn’t help that the cottage we were assigned to looked like something straight out of Jane Eyre, and simply screamed “Look at me! I’m creepy!”  The stairs creaked and our voices echoed in the room.   Setting us up for some very non-subtle, and in-your-face forms of Old-colonial-house-formerly-occupied-by haunted-members-of-British-origin tendencies. 

but I wasn’t one to be put out by something so ridiculous.  I asked the Lance Naik who had accompanied us to our room.   “I hear you have a ghost on the grounds.”

He was silent, but only for a moment.  “He won’t bother you Ma’am.”

I stared at him quite deliberately.  “You do have a ghost then?”

His smile didn’t waver.  “We have a presence. ”  And he stepped out, shutting the door behind him. 

“What did you say the name of that ghost was?”  I asked my husband.  He grinned and replied, “Roberts.”

Cottages in the Garhwal Rifles Officers Mess are named for former decorated regimental officers.  Our cottage was named ‘Roberts’.

Go figure.